, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 115-123
Date: 06 Feb 2005

The U.S. Experience in Promoting Sustainable Chemistry (9 pp)

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Sustainable chemistry - Section editors: Klaus Günter Steinhäuser, Steffi Richter, Petra Greiner, Jutta Penning, Michael Angrick

Background, Aim and Scope

Recent developments in European chemicals policy, including the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) proposal, provide a unique opportunity to examine the U.S. experience in promoting sustainable chemistry as well as the strengths and weaknesses of existing policies. Indeed, the problems of industrial chemicals and limitations in current regulatory approaches to address chemical risks are strikingly similar on both sides of the Atlantic. We provide an overview of the U.S. regulatory system for chemicals management and its relationship to efforts promoting sustainable chemistry. We examine federal and state and examine lessons learned from this system that can be applied to developing more integrated, sustainable approaches to chemicals management.

Main Features

There is truly no one U.S. chemicals policy, but rather a series of different un-integrated policies at the federal, regional, state and local levels. While centerpiece U.S. Chemicals Policy, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, has resulted in the development of a comprehensive, efficient rapid screening process for new chemicals, agency action to manage existing chemicals has been very limited. The agency, however, has engaged in a number of successful, though highly underfunded, voluntary data collection, pollution prevention, and sustainable design programs that have been important motivators for sustainable chemistry. Policy innovation in the establishment of numerous state level initiatives on persistent and bioaccumulative toxics, chemical restrictions and toxics use reduction have resulted in pressure on the federal government to augment its efforts.

Results and Conclusions

It is clear that data collection on chemical risks and phase-outs of the most egregious chemicals alone will not achieve the goals of sustainable chemistry. These alone will also not internalize the cultural and institutional changes needed to ensure that design and implementation of safer chemicals, processes, and products are the focus of the future. Thus, a more holistic approach of ‘carrots and sticks’ – that involves not just chemical producers but those who use and purchase chemicals is necessary. Some important lessons of the US experience in chemicals management include: (1) the need for good information on chemicals flows, toxic risks, and safer substances.; (2) the need for comprehensive planning processes for chemical substitution and reduction to avoid risk trade-offs and ensure product quality; (3) the need for technical and research support to firms for innovation in safer chemistry; and (4) the need for rapid screening processes and tools for comparison of alternative chemicals, materials, and products.